LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In a bright yellow cloth shirt, arms outstretched and adorned with bangles, the image of Shaney Blackman towering over six metres tall on a wall in east London is arresting.
Blackman’s portrait is the last in a series of 10 murals blazoned across the capital highlighting the lives of strong, black women by artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane, known as Dreph.
Dreph said the portraits, far from capturing celebrity or famous faces, seek to celebrate every day women, such as Blackman, a legal professional who quit her high-powered job to volunteer and travel the world.
“I didn’t ever think I’d be a piece of street art,” Blackman said.
“I definitely think that there’s a low representation of black women but we are here, we exist.”
Dreph said the project is about “celebrating people I felt needed celebrating, ordinary people who do extraordinary things” with the women ranging from health consultants to care professionals to marketing executives.
One woman portrayed is Holly Diana May Oluwo, with fiery orange curls, freckles and a nose ring, who is a survivor of a sexual assault and domestic violence and herself an artist and writer.
“For a young girl who does look similar to me, to see these images, that would have impacted my life so much if I would have seen that at a young age,” said Oluwo.
Leyla Hussein, whose portrait appears in London’s trendy Soho area with her hair wrapped in
an orange turban, is a leading global campaigner against female genital mutilation.
For Dreph, the project entitled You Are Enough, comes at a time of greater focus on how the gender pay gap is impacting black women and the Black Lives Matter campaign in the United States following the election of President Donald Trump.
The British-Ghanian artist, 43, who studied fine art and has worked in schools, said it was important his work was public.
“As an artist, if I wanted to just make work for me I’d be in a studio … I paint in the street because of the interaction,” he said. “I thrive off that.”
While composing his final portrait of Blackman, which took five days to complete, several passersby stopped to take photos as Dreph scurried up and down a ladder adding finishing touches.
“It’s a very, very striking piece,” said Mario Tilney-Bassett, who stopped on his bike to take in
“It’s a piece of art more than just a piece of graffiti.”
For Pauline Nottingham, a 24-year-old receptionist who works opposite the artwork, the painting makes her optimistic.
“I think it’s really beautiful,” she said.
Some of the women featured are adjusting to new found fame having been recognised by tourists and locals in the area.
“It is quite surreal,” said Tracy Blackstock, who works with vulnerable young people and whose portrait appears in the hipster Shoreditch area of London.
“I’m a mother and I work with young people so it’s really important to demonstrate real positive role models,” she said.